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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Armado: 3D Platforming Comes to the iPhone

Gaming on the iPhone and iPod touch comes in many forms, but a lot of genres still lack representation on the mobile platform. Cross one more off that list as Tricky Software, Inc. introduces Armado, a 3D platformer for Apple’s handheld devices.

Tricky Software is a new development studio staffed by former EA employees, including devs who worked on games like the Tiger Woods series, Godfather, and Spore Origins for the iPhone/iPod touch. Armado is their first release developed and published under the Tricky Software banner, so there’s a lot riding on the success of the game for the fledgling company.

Spore Origins is one of the most lauded games on the iPhone/iPod touch platform, so I had high hopes for Armado. What made Spore so successful was its intuitive controls, which showed that it was obviously designed specifically for the accelerometer-sporting device, instead of merely shoehorned to fit as an afterthought. Could Armado live up to its predecessor in this regard?

Upon launching the app, I was impressed immediately with two things. First, the soundtrack that greeted me even on the initial menu screen was professional and pleasant. Second, when I started the game, an illustrated cutscene with professional narration played, setting up the backstory of the character without being over laborious or involved. Additional cutscenes between levels continue to expand the story. Basically you’re trying to save eagles from ants. And you’re an armadillo. I think they’re going for realism.

In-game 3D graphics are good, though there is little variety in level design. Essentially you’re either going up or down a mountain, and movement is restricted to forwards or backwards only (like a simplified Crash Bandicoot), which you control by tilting the device. You can jump to avoid obstacles by tapping the screen, and two taps results in a double jump. I found jumping on enemies very hard to do, even after I discovered that you can control your in-air movement by tilting as well, although they also aren’t very good at striking you, so it sort of evens out.

Overall, the game is difficult, and the controls are not as intuitive as they are in Spore Origins, and the occasional crash put a damper on my enthusiasm. That said, it’s an impressive and well-designed example of what the iPhone/iPod touch are capable of, and if you’re willing to deal with a little initial frustration, once you get the hang of the controls it becomes a very fun time-waster indeed. Look for more exciting things to come from Tricky Software in the future, since they seem to have a good grasp of what the platform needs.

Armado is available from the App Store now for $4.99.